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Attorney General’s office says BPDA violated Open Meeting Law during PLAN: JP/Rox vote

Banner Staff

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s office found that the Boston Planning and Development Agency violated the state’s Open Meeting Law during a March 2017 meeting to vote on PLAN: JP/Rox.

The vote occurred after a group of community members held a two-day, overnight protest at Mayor Martin Walsh’s office and attended the BPDA board meeting to voice opposition to the plan. Protestors asserted that the plan would exacerbate displacement and gentrification because of what they said was lack of strong affordability requirements and protections against displacement.

The Attorney General’s office found that the demonstrators were kept out of the meeting despite the fact that there were vacant seats in the BPDA board room.

“[I]t appears that, after individuals were removed from the meeting room, approximately a dozen seats remained unfilled as the meeting continued,” the report reads. “The security personnel stood throughout the meeting room, sometimes in between rows of seats amidst the audience. … Based on the loud chants of ‘LET THEM IN,’ this fact could not have escaped the notice of the Board members. … Because the Board was plainly aware that members of the public sought to enter the meeting room, its failure to admit them violated the Open Meeting Law.”

BPDA officials issued the following statement in regards to the attorney general’s ruling:

“We are pleased with the finding by the Attorney General’s Office that the Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA) complied with the Open Meeting Law on almost every single account during the March 2, 2017 Board meeting. At the same time, we take very seriously the decision that finds that the BPDA failed to admit community members to fill empty seats after the Boston Police Department took action in what they determined to be a public safety matter. The BPDA prioritizes creating an inclusive and welcoming environment for all, and we are working with the Attorney General’s Office for guidance and best practices in the event a similar situation occurs at a future BPDA-sponsored meeting.”

Residents of Jamaica Plain and Roxbury and members of Keep It 100 for Real Affordable Housing and Racial Justice, had pressured the City to redefine affordability in its PLAN JP/Rox planning area to match neighborhood incomes of $40,000 a year. The group also called for an increase the affordability goals in the planning area from 36 percent of new housing to 55 percent of new housing and a commitment to converting 250 market-rate units into permanently affordable units.

Because a substantial amount of the land in the Plan: JP/Rox area is publicly-owned, city officials were able to commit to affordability levels higher than the standard 13 percent for privately-developed housing in the city. Community members, however, said the plan would push people of color out of the neighborhood and create new housing unaffordable to people of color.

At the BPDA’s March board meeting, BPDA staff, Boston police and City Hall security stopped people from entering the board room. The activists say Boston police intimidated people in the meeting by filming them and police and security officers targeted people of color to attempt to remove them even when they had not disrupted the meeting.

“It wasn’t fair to the people inside and it wasn’t fair to the people outside not allowed to come in,” said My’Kel McMillen, a Jamaica Plain resident.

McMillen vowed to continue fighting against displacement of longtime community residents.

“It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” he said. “Although they are going to try to silence our voices, fear only wins if you allow it to.”

Members of Keep It 100 for Real Affordable Housing say many people at the BPDA board meeting spoke up against the plan and were ordered to leave, but others were barred from entering the meeting or were harassed by police to leave even though they had not disrupted the meeting. The Attorney General’s determination raised concerns about the police’s attempted removal of people, and whether there was racial discrimination.

“Certain actions in the videos [of the meeting] raise concerns — in particular, that police officers at certain points attempt to remove advocates who could not be seen on the video to be causing any disturbance,” the determination reads. “Where the persons targeted for removal here appear to be racial or ethnic minorities, we are concerned as to whether they were being treated differently than white members of the public who were in attendance.”

Although the original complaint included a detailed timeline and description of videos showing how people of color were targeted, the determination does not offer a final conclusion on whether racial discrimination in fact occurred, and notes that racial discrimination is not covered by the Open Meeting Law.

Re-written from a Keep It 100 for Real Affordable Housing press release.

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